Tom Barnett endorses Romney

Unexpected, to say the least, because Tom usually describes himself as a Democrat. His reasoning is interesting:

The sad truth about a second Obama presidency

Tom is quite familiar with Boyd’s work, and I admit to being a big fan of what he’s trying to achieve. Where we differ is on method: He still supports large armies, talks about power projection, solves the problem of terrorism by “killing bad guys,” and thinks that economics is driven by how many sub-minimum wage workers you have.

On the other hand, he considers our level of strategic thinking as “pathetic.” Here’s a briefing that he gave last year.  Pay close attention to his strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and South Asia. You may not agree with it, but it is refreshingly out of the box.

All in all, we have much more in common than any points of disagreement, and I consider him as one of our best geopolitical strategists. I think that after watching this, you’ll understand why he isn’t a senior figure in the administration, the more the loss for the rest of us.



Ghosts of Ole Miss

Just caught Wright Thompson’s “Ghosts of Ole Miss” on ESPN. The film documents the integration of Ole Miss by James Meredith in September 1962, an event some consider as the last battle of the Civil War.

As it turns out, I was a student at University High School in Oxford on that fateful night, but slept through the whole thing (as did James Meredith).

Native Mississippian and Oxford resident Thompson did a brilliant job of capturing the social climate that led to the riot as well as the long period of rebuilding and redemption. It’s hard for me to explain what Mississippi was like in 1962 and how far we’ve come: We now have, for example, a black homecoming queen and student body president (both elected by the students).

The film also honored the 1962 Ole Miss Rebels, who went undefeated that fall and whose success played not a small role in helping the university recover.

I have three degrees from Ole Miss and would not hesitate to recommend the school to anyone.

Read an interview with Wright Thompson about “Ghosts of Ole Miss.”

In order to think, I act.

That’s a quote from a recent LinkedIn piece, “The Two Types of Speed” by Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, Inc.

You could say that Hiroshi has summarized Boyd’s Conceptual Spiral in one sentence (talk about a big squeeze!) Another quote from the blog should be familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in Lean: “Fast means you must eliminate waste.” In fact, he insists that you must have a continually functioning process for eliminating waste because waste always comes back (another formulation of the Second Law, by the way).

He’s also making the  point that an organization generally doesn’t act more quickly — reduce the time between order and delivery, for example, or between concept and first production — by doing what it’s doing now, just doing it faster. In fact, that would probably create even more waste.

Check out Hiroshi’s piece. What do you think about Hiroshi’s definition of “agility”?

[Rakuten is the largest e-commerce site in Japan and one of the largest in the world. It owns and just invested $50 million in Pintrest.]

A3, Einheit, and the conceptual spiral

Boyd didn’t like to leave anything to chance. While he recognized that uncertainty is the atmosphere of conflict, it affects all sides, like the weather. Unlike the weather, however, you don’t have to take what nature gives you; you can pump up uncertainty in the other side. Boyd’s suggestion for doing this was to conduct experiments on your opponents, learn from these experiments more rapidly than they do, and then use your updated orientation to better shape and adapt to the situation. By doing this, you can throw more novelty at them than they can handle, while at the same time handling theirs with aplomb. Continue reading

Another thing to make you feel old

As if I really needed it.

The Department of Energy has announced that the Titan supercomputer is now open for business at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Titan can clip along at 20 petaflops, that’s 20,000 trillion calculations per second.

Back when I first got into computing, the big kid on the block was the IBM 7030 Stretch, which hit an amazing 1.2 mips, that is 1.2 million instructions per second. The computer we were using, the IBM 1620, could do on the order of 700 – 800 additions per second, which was really fast compared to what most people could do by hand.

New version of “Meaning of Life”

A few tweaks to “John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the Meaning of Life,” now available from the Articles page.


  • Page 2: A footnote supplying data to reinforce Boyd’s contention that one of the invariants he discovered, the one underlying both blitzkrieg/maneuver warfare and guerrilla warfare, has been “extraordinarily successful”
  • Page 15: Corrected the page citation for the Balck quote (with a hat tip to Feral Jundi)
  • Page 21: Added a cautionary note on using the military version of “operating inside the OODA loop” for conflicts other than war

For better value, change your values

Air Force Lt Col Dan Ward has another great piece on how to break out of the cycle of acquisition programs that are ever more expensive, ever later, and in many cases, ever more irrelevant. Obviously the first two make the third just that much more likely.

Perhaps to better accommodate the crowd here at Fast Transients, he’s done this one in graphic novel format: The Comic Guide To Improving Defense Acquisitions. (2.9 MB PDF)

Pay close attention starting at around page 8, where he explains how orientation (which calls “values,” as in “things we value”) shapes our decision making. So if, as he writes, we value complexity, perhaps as a sign of sophistication (or — my interpretation — because we can hire more people thereby increasing profit and political pull), then we’ll focus our efforts on justifying the complexity and the additional cost and time it implies rather than trying to make things simpler.

[Check out Mark Thompson’s comment over at Time’s Battleland.]

Feral Jundi on Balck

Feral Jundi [Arabic: draftee or private], who has commented on posts here from time to time, has a great piece on Hermann Balck.

Balck was undoubtedly Boyd’s favorite among the field commanders of WWII, ranking this relatively junior commander in such company as Stonewall Jackson, U.S. Grant, Field Marshals von Manstein and Rommel, and the US Generals Patton and MacArthur (Patterns 111).

For more information on the Truppenführung and the “Prussian” system generally, I strongly recommend Fighting Power by the Israeli historian Martin van Creveld (Greenwood Press, 1982).